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Budget Statement 2018 (Continued)

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy] There was a real opportunity to do things differently. Instead of looking at short-term, year-by-year budgeting, the Minister should have considered what the outcome would be in five, ten or 20 years if we really invested now in primary education, social housing, public transport or retrofitting our housing stock. Those are the kinds of questions that need to be focused on in advance of a budget, not the little bits that have been spread all over the place. They will be welcome in quarters where people are strapped, but the focus of this has been very much to relieve the top earners. There is very little in the budget for low to average income earners. The focus was very much on providing for the Fine Gael electoral base but it is hugely disappointing for society in general. The big issue is investing in public services and putting money back into people's pockets by collectively providing services such as child care or investing in Sláintecare or education. This budget is a missed opportunity. It will be looked back on as the year the tide could have turned and there could have been a different focus but the Government failed miserably in that regard.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan The budget has missed an opportunity. Thank God we are in the situation of having a balanced budget and the ability to introduce additional expenditure and tax measures. However, the budget has introduced a range of small measures with no vision, purpose or sense of anything being done differently. Some measures are to be welcomed. It is very welcome that the idea of my colleague, Deputy Catherine Martin, regarding improving the lot of parents with premature babies has been followed through. There are many similar examples. I welcome the belated change of tack on a vacant sites levy. My party colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, proposed such a measure in February. Unfortunately, her proposal was voted down by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael but it has now been announced in the budget. The Green Party would go further in that regard and apply a similar levy to a range of other sites to threaten the property industry with a stick instead of just giving it carrots. We could pick out aspects of many similar measures that would be welcomed by any ordinary person. However, the lack of change or sense of new direction is disappointing and particularly so because the current environment would allow for that.

We are lucky to have a balanced budget in view of the events of recent years. I am a member of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight and it was told that, because interest rates are at an historic low, our debt repayments are in the order of €3 billion less than was expected three or four years ago. As is said in the finer detail of the budget papers, which are worth reading through, we have about €400 million extra this year because, thankfully, the jobless figure is reducing. What is being saved in unemployment benefits is giving us a €400 million boost. Only the dark artists of economic science could explain the Central Bank balance sheet but there has been a bumper allocation of €1 billion plus per year from the Central Bank to the Exchequer because of the vagaries of bond markets, promissory notes and so on. A series of very beneficial aids has put us in the situation of having a little bit of wiggle room and a little bit of room to be creative and imaginative, set a course and do things differently. It is greatly disappointing that was not done. There are many incremental changes in the budget but nothing really different. There is no sense of a Government with a vision or plan or Departments that are keen as mustard to get many things done. The budget is of a deeply conservative nature.

I wish to highlight areas where a sense of direction or change could have been shown. These areas may have been raised at the Committee on Budgetary Oversight but they are worth repeating. I was deeply shocked at the budget content in relation to climate change because not only was there a lack of vision or direction, but there was nothing of any substance. That is particularly shocking because the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, is due to attend a Council meeting in the coming days at which our European colleagues will tell him that the rules will be applied and Ireland will face fines of €500 million to €800 million per year in three or four years' time. The only counter-argument the Minister raised during a discussion of this matter at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment on 5 October was that he could ask them not to apply the fines but to give Ireland some time and allow it to spend the money that would have gone to paying the fines on reducing emissions. If that is to be the case, the budget should have put €600 million into mitigating climate emissions but it did nothing in that regard. There are dribs and drabs and bits and bobs but nothing of any real scale or ambition.

In terms of transport, I spoke briefly today to the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Humphreys. She told me she left her home at 6.30 a.m. today and was stuck on the M1 coming in by the airport for hours. Last week, it took Deputy Stanley three hours to get from Portlaoise to Dublin. We are facing absolute and utter gridlock and there is nothing in the transport budget that shows any way of addressing that existential crisis not only of emissions, but also our economic future and stability. No rail-based public transport project is ready to go. All the money being spent on motorways, additional roads and so on will not solve the fundamental problem of our cities being gridlocked and having no way into them. No more roads can be built to fix that. There is no more room on the M50 and no more lanes can be added nor any more spaghetti junctions attached to the Red Cow roundabout or the magic roundabout. We have to invest in public transport but there is no provision for it in the budget.

We have to invest in cycling. Some €3 million has been allocated to cycling. That would pay for approximately 50 m of motorway. People are crying out for investment in cycling because we know it can work. It can tackle gridlock and it is a good way to reduce emissions and to create safe cities. It would also reduce the health bill because there would not be as many obese children and adults. However, there is no provision for this in the budget. We have been prepping the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, so that he can be a champ in this regard and we have been showing him various schemes he could pursue. In spite of that, nothing is being done.

There is a similar lack of ambition in regard to energy. Farmers have been given a tax break for putting in solar panels. As it is a Fine Gael-led Government, it is not surprising that farmers have been given a tax break. We should be putting solar panels on the roofs of schools and public buildings. Why has €20 million not been allocated for the State to lead the solar revolution and take a punt on putting solar panels on the roofs of its buildings? There is nothing in the budget about developing offshore energy even though other countries are doing so on a large scale, and that is the future. This budget shows no ambition. There is a welcome increase in energy efficiency but nothing of the scale we need.

Some €10 million has been allocated to electric vehicles. If we were really serious about making Ireland a leading country for the development of electric vehicles, we would be setting aside €50 million next year for public charging stations across the country so that people who buy electric vehicles would know for sure they would be able to charge them. We would resolve to be really good at this. All the car companies are making the cars and they will be available from January onwards and the State should row in with that. Instead, the Minister, Deputy Ross, will tomorrow come out with some half-baked half measure with no scale of ambition.

It is the same in regard to agriculture. There is not a single word about forestry in all the budget papers I have read, the fine print of which I have been going through. It is as if we were a leader in terms of reducing emissions.

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